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Hell Divers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Hell Divers (Hell Divers Trilogy Book 1) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

I’ve listened to this book twice and it was great both times through. The first go drew me in with this airship and the hell divers and the destroyed land beneath them. The second pass let me appreciate the characters more. Xavier (X to most) and his sorta adopted kid Tin are both great characters. Both have a lot on their shoulders and both save their little society in their own ways.

The setting really captured my imagination. Yes, this is post-apocalyptic fiction, but in this world, the apocalypse came a bit further along the human timeline. Even the remnants of the technology that was once available is just beyond what we have now. The Hell Divers jump to gather much needed supplies for their airship, keeping it in the air, away from the worst of the radiation for generations now. But stuff is breaking down, supplies are limited, and the situation becomes more and more desperate.

I did get a little chuckle over Hades being what once was Chicago. All those deadly lightning storms! And the monsters dubbed the Sirens! I’m a huge Dresden Files fan and I can just see Harry Dresden rolling over in his grave that Chicago has fallen to lightning and monsters!

Even with everything being in a desperate state, politics still plays a role in the management of the ship. So true. I can see why the rebels demand more meds and more food but their efforts end in a body count and could have easily ended them all! The captain was put in a very tough situation. She couldn’t let this minor rebellion grow but any body count earns her a bit more hatred from part of the population. Captain Ash earned my respect with her actions during this crisis.

I loved that the ladies were part of every aspect of this story. They were in the military management of the airship. They were Hell Divers. They were teachers, cooks, kids, drug addicted desperate people, etc. For a military post-apocalyptic scifi, this was a very important aspect for me and Smith met the challenge! Yay! It’s only practical to have women be on an equal footing at the end of the world.

The action never stops with this book. There were so many moments where I thought for sure this character or that was toast! I was on the edge of my seat the first time I read it. On the second pass, you could still catch me nibbling my fingernails as I relived this scene or that. This was a very enjoyable book! 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray is a delight to listen to. His deep voice for X is perfect. His female voices sounded feminine and his little kid voices were realistic. He makes a great Tin as well as a great Captain Ash. The pacing is perfect and he performs those emotional scenes perfectly. 5/5 stars

Ghosts by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Ghosts - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

With the way Book 1 ended, I had to jump right into Book 2. Set 10 years later, the book keeps us in suspense as to what ultimately happened to X from Book 1. While that question was in the back of my mind, I got caught up with Tin, who’s real name is Michael Everhart. He’s now a young man, considered a full experienced adult in this post-apocalyptic society. The Hive airship is still flying. Yet things haven’t been all rosy these past years. It’s been one emergency after another. Captain Leon Jordan handles some of these emergencies well and others not so much. As the pressure builds, he makes more and more mistakes.

Once again, the action keeps this book moving along at a swift clip. I worried over this character or that one and was on the edge of my seat for the entire book. Michael is a great character to follow. He’s become a Hell Diver (like his dad and like X).  I was glad to see that Layla was still a significant part of Michael’s life. I love that they work as a team and there’s no ridiculous chauvinistic chivalry from Michael and no fainting flower silliness from Layla. These two are a great hero duo.

There’s a canine companion, Miles, in this book which makes life bearable for a certain character. Yay! Of course, there were several times where I worried about the dog’s safety. No fears! The dog makes it through this book.

Captain Jordan is not a good person. I think he once was, but the constant pressure since he assumed control (after Cpt. Ash succumbed to cancer) has brought out the worst traits in the man. I think Katrina, who was once X’s lover, has tried her best to keep Jordan level-headed. I knew Jordan had gone to the dark side when he removed the ship’s historical artwork from the hallways. Bad move!

Hell Diver Magnolia is back in this book but early on I worried if she would make it through this book alive! Her accident acts as a catalyst for Michael and his Hell Divers to break some rules. She’s got some of the best lines in the book.

All told, this is a worthy sequel to Book 1. I found it just as enthralling. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray continues to do this series justice. I liked his grown up voices for Tin (Michael) and Layla, who were kids in Book 1. He had the perfect voice for jerk captain Jordan as well. His female characters sounded feminine and each character had a unique voice. The pacing was perfect as well. 5/5 stars.

Deliverance (Hell Divers 2) by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Deliverance - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

X is my hero! Well, perhaps Miles (his bioengineered dog) is my first hero and X is a close second. I have totally binged read this series. I already have Book 4 on pre-order too. The pace is swift, the setting gripping, and the characters engaging. This series has been one of my favorite stories I’ve listened to this year and one of my favorite post-apocalyptic stories of all time. Book 1 was great and Smith has managed to carry that awesomeness throughout the series.

Team Raptor, lead by Hell Diver Michael Everhart, spends some quality time on Earth rather than up in The Hive airship. Captain Jordan has rocked off his hinges and Team Raptor was in danger of being exterminated. Now Michael knows that X survived the ending of Book 1, even left a recorded radio message that Jordan was aware of, and now Michael needs  to find out if X is still alive. Plus, things in the air aren’t going well. The inhabitants of The Hive will need an earthly home sooner rather than later.

Through X, we get to learn more about the remnants of humans and their tech. One of the things I have really enjoyed about this series is that the apocalypse happened further down the timeline so the tech is more advanced than what we have now, but considered remnants by X and the other airship humans. There’s bioengineered animals, and cryogenics, and some AI. This really gives it a near-future scifi feeling as well as being post-apocalyptic.

Katrina has done her best to smooth things out with Captain Jordan but he’s gone too far on too many things. She can no longer keep him stable and reasonable. He’s dead set on keeping The Hive in the air no matter the costs; he’s willing to ignore any facts to the contrary. Katrina has to make some hard decisions in this book and I admired her for that.

Team Raptor (Michael, Layla, Magnolia, and Roger) come across more dangers than just the Sirens and radiation. As they explore the surface, they discover aggressive plants and evidence that the humans in the sky aren’t the only ones that have survived this long. Once again, Magnolia and her smart mouth was one of my favorite characters.

The action propels the story forward and before I knew it, I was done. Now I had to wait for Book 4. The sweet torture! Good thing I can go back and re-read the series before Book 4 comes out. 5/5 stars.

The Narration: R. C. Bray is excellent to listen to in this series. He’s aged and rasped up X’s voice so it’s perfect. I love his smart mouth for Magnolia and his angry, frustrated voice for Captain Jordan. There’s some emotional moments in this tale and Bray captures those perfectly. 5/5 stars.

Trackers by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Trackers - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

My addiction to Smith’s works continues. I tore through his Hell Divers series (which I totally loved) and then jumped into this series. Finally, I’m writing reviews.

This post-apocalyptic series is set in modern times, mostly set in Estes Park, Colorado (which is an easy day’s drive north of me). In this scenario, EMPs are set off in key points of the USA, shutting down our electric grid and wreaking havoc. The North Koreans have nearly paralyzed the US government! Even as people start to grasp what has happened, the hits keep coming for Washington DC.

I became attached the Estes Park characters much quicker than I did with the Washington DC characters. I did like the alternating view points. Sam ‘Raven’ Spears (retired Marine) and his dog Creek are my favorite characters hands down. Sam has been a bit of a loaf in Estes Park but now with this nationwide emergency he has a chance to really make a difference. Also, this is a murder mystery story and Raven gets caught up in that too since he and Creek are excellent trackers. Raven’s sister Sandra, who works as a nurse at the hospital, and her daughter (Allie) become caught up in this mystery too.

The reaction of the average citizen was very realistic. Sure, a lot of stuff has stopped working, there looks to have been a bomb off on the horizon (maybe a nuclear bomb), but some things still work and surely the government will be by any time to set things right, right? Some people were more skeptical, some caught on quicker, some didn’t wait to find out one way or another, etc. It was a great mix of believable responses.

I was a little surprised by the ladies. I’m coming to this series from Hell Divers where the ladies do everything the men do; gender equality is a given not a ‘check the box’ thing. So here we have several well made female characters that are competent in their given jobs and yet none of them are in the thick of it. They generally don’t handle weapons and they certainly don’t go out on missions to scout, track, or rescue. I was left wanting more from the ladies.

While Raven works with police chief Colton on tracking down a killer, Nathan Sardetti goes on a rescue mission near Estes Park. His handicapped nephew, Ty, was at a special camp when all hell broke lose. Nathan’s sister, Senator Charlize Montgomery (who’s a retired fighter pilot), was in DC when things headed south. She’s recovering from serious injuries and can’t join in the search herself. Her body guard, Big Al Randall, do their best to rejoin the remnants of the US government.

Unfortunately, there’s a group of white supremacists (Sons of Liberty) in the area near Estes Park and they would be quite happy to have some important captives. I loved hating on their leader, Fenix. He was so hate worthy but also calm, collected, smart. He makes a worthy foe for both Nathan and Raven.

The murder mystery, the believability of the EMP attack and response, and the bits of Sioux & Cherokee believes all worked well for me. The tame ladies left me wanting a bit more. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot gave a pretty good performance. There was this side character that was written as very loud and a bit rude and Pinchot did that voice well but sometimes I had to turn the volume down a little. I liked his voice for Raven and he also made a great Colton. His voice for Charlize Montgomery was feminine and carried her strength as well. His voice for President Diego was a little too much Texas politician for me, but that also made it distinct. 4.5/5 stars.

The Hunted, Trackers 2 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Trackers 2: The Hunted (Trackers series, Book 2) - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

In this sequel, Ty really stood out for me. He’s a kid in a wheelchair being held captive by the leader of white supremacist group lead by General Fenix. His mom, who is somewhere on the east coast, is a Senator and Fenix wants to use Ty to get much needed supplies plus weapons. Ty shows great courage in this book and he’s the character that stands out to me.

Of course Raven Spears and his dog Creek still steal the show. In Book 1, there was a serial killer to hunt down. Having helped out with that, Nathan Sardetti can now rely on Raven to help him rescue Ty and possibly kill Fenix. They make a really good team.

Martha is one of the many refugees that end up in Estes Park. She’s a doctor but she’s also pretty banged up herself. I really liked this minor story line because it brought up a lot of great points about such a calamity. Can Estes Park afford to take in refugees? They have very limited medical supplies and food. Winter is coming. If the refugees don’t bring valuable skills or supplies, should Estes Park take them in? Very realistic to have these tough questions come up.

Meanwhile, over on the east coast, President Diego and what’s left of the government have come to terms with the fact that much of the chain of command is gone. Now Senator Charlize Montgomery, Ty’s mom, has been made Secretary of Defense. Her body guard, Big Al, continues to be a pillar of strength as she gets further along in recovering from her severe injuries sustained in Book 1.

The ladies still have rather limited roles in this series and that surprises me. Having enjoyed the Hell Divers series, I really hoped the ladies would break out of their shells here in Book 2 of this series. Charlize can be excused because of her injuries. I did hope that Raven’s sister Sandra, who is a competent nurse at the Estes Park hospital, would have something bigger to do. Mayor Andrews of Estes Park doesn’t seem to fully grasp how tough their situation is. Police chief Colton has one female officer on staff, Lindsey Plymouth, but she doesn’t get much page time in this story.

Once again, I loved hating on Fenix. He’s crafty and has the luck of the devil himself! He poses a big threat to Estes Park but he’s not going to be taken down easy!

I was pretty sad to have to say goodbye to one of my favorite characters. The action was well mixed with quieter moments. I love seeing how Raven’s character is growing, becoming more confident and trusted by the people of Estes Park. 4.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot continues to do well for this series. His female voices are feminine and he has pretty good little kid voices. I really liked his voice for Ty. His voice for President Diego is still a touch over done for me but I can live with it. Pinchot’s pacing is good and there’s no technical issues with this recording. 4.75/5 stars.

The Storm, Trackers 3 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

The Storm - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

I have just flown through these first 3 books in this series. For the characters, these events all take place in the space of a few weeks. Ty is now safely with his mom, Secretary of Defense Charlize Montgomery, in a secure facility in Florida where there’s still electricity and communications with the outside world. Raven Spears continues to work with police chief Colton in Estes Park, Colorado. The white supremacist leader, Fenix, is still out there and still a threat.

One of my favorite story lines in this book is where Big Al, Charlize’s body guard, is given the chance to go find and rescue his sister. She’s his twin and his last remaining family. Al lost his wife and kids in the initial strikes and he can’t let his sister go. Turns out she’s got a drug problem and that opens a little can of worms; how to justify the man power & supplies & risk to locate her and bring her back to the secure facility? All sorts of great questions came up as we followed Big Al on his personal mission. They go through gang-controlled streets, bump into an abandoned kid with a LotR complex, and then have to see about a drugged out sister. Who is worthy of the very limited help available? People like Charlize and President Diego have to the make those calls on a big picture level. Big Al has to make those decisions in the moment on the ground on a smaller scale.

Meanwhile, in Estes Park, roving bands of violent looters become an issue. Some of these looters are drug addicted. Redford’s gang is the most troublesome of these looters because they are organized. The body count rises and police chief Marcus Colton is pulling his hair out trying to keep Estes Park safe. Mayor Andrews and her lackeys aren’t helping matters. A schism has developed between these two groups, but both want the best for Estes Park. I was very pleased to see that police detective Lindsey Plymouth had a bigger role in this book. Raven’s attempts at flirtation were a secondary thing but provided some much needed humor for the story.

Colton knows that Estes Park needs allies. Between Niles Redford’s gang, General Dan Felix (leader of the white supremacist group Sons of Liberty), and the influx of refugees, Estes Park could easily be over run. Lindsey and Raven are sent to Storm Mountain to meet with the local preppers group led by John Kirkus. Colton believes he can make a good alliance with Sheriff Thompson of Fort Collins. There is more than one betrayal and I was shocked and a little distraught over how things turned out for some of my favorite characters. Estes Park is in so much trouble!

I’ve really gotten attached to this story despite the ladies having a backseat to the men. Charlize, a retired fighter pilot, hasn’t gotten into the pilot’s seat yet. Lindsey shows promise but hasn’t gone out hunting or scouting or tracking solo like the men do. Raven’s sister Sandra is still a competent nurse at the hospital but doesn’t do much other than patch Raven up. Martha, a minor character from Book 2, is a doctor but hasn’t done much other than bleed a lot. I just need a bit more from the ladies to make this series rock. After all, Colorado is known for it’s hardy, independent, capable women. 4.75/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot continues to give a great voice for Raven and for Colton. His voice for President Diego continues to grate a bit. Pinchot’s female voices are feminine and his kid voices work well too. His calm creepy voices also work really well for our multiple bad guys. 4.75/5 stars.

The Damned, Trackers 4 by Nicholas Sansbury Smith

The Damned - Nicholas Sansbury Smith

Raven and his dog Creek continue to be the heroes of this story. So man big things happen in this book! I can’t believe it’s the end of the series!

Book 3 left us with several betrayals fresh on our hearts, Creek injured, police chief Colton held captive, and Estes Park in dire straights. Colton was very sad to be betrayed by Sheriff Thompson over in Fort Collins. Storm Mountain with Kikus’s preppers turned out to be a wash as well. Then there’s the internal strife of Estes Park that could end the town. Dan Fenix, the white supremacist, is still out there too.

Meanwhile, the US government has a big offer to consider: China will provide all sorts of assistance but that means thousands of Chinese on USA soil, including Chinese troops to protect the Chinese work forces that will be rebuilding the electric grid. President Diego takes in advice from his cabinet, but most have mixed feelings on the matter. Of course, it will be tough to get the entire population of the USA informed and keep Chinese work forces from being attacked.

Big Al Randall, Senator Charlize Montgomery’s body guard, set off to find & rescue his sister in Book 3. Now he’s got to get her back to good. Charlize has a lot of mixed feelings about the Chinese. She knows the USA needs sizable assistance and the quicker electricity can be restored, the fewer US citizens will die. She’s stuck in a tough position of supporting President Diego but also remaining suspicious.

Back in Estes Park, Sandra (Raven’s sister) and Allie (Sandra’s daughter) continue to play support roles for Raven. Sandra’s still a competent nurse at the hospital and now one of the more senior medical care providers in the area. Colton spends some quality time thinking about his wife, Kelly, and their daughter, Risa, while he’s an uncooperative guest of Sheriff Thompson. Lindsey Plymouth has been promoted to captain of the police force though she’s not at all happy at how that came about.

This final installment in this series (really? final?) is full of action. There are many desperate moments where the good guys risk it all to bring home another good guy or end a bad guy permanently. I really wanted to see Sheriff Thompson ended. He was such a bad guy! Dan Fenix is a bad guy too but he has this messed up ideal (white supremacy) pushing him along (not that that’s OK). Thompson just seems to be in it for the chaos and the blood and the personal gain.

The ending had some very touching scenes and we lost another loved character. I really hope we get more about these characters eventually. I think I saw something about a possible spinoff series. I hope so! The ladies still have more to offer to this series instead of being left behind most of the time. 4.75/5 stars.

The Narration: Bronson Pinchot has does a really good job with this series including this book. His female characters are feminine. I did have a little trouble discerning the difference between Sheriff Thompson and Dan Felix; Pinchot’s voices for them were very close and I often got a little confused over who was talking. The pacing was good and there were no issues with the recording. 4.75/5 stars.

The Secret Chord by Kathryn Guare

The Secret Chord: The Virtuosic Spy - Book 2 - Kathryn Guare

I was really excited to dig into this book because Book 1 was so good. This story had it’s charms as well but I did enjoy the first book more. Our hero, Conor McBride, is in dire need of some serious rest and relaxation. He goes to great pains to walk away from the espionage business that entangled him and his brother in Book 1. A fancy but quiet Vermont Bed & Breakfast needs an experienced dairy farmer and that’s right up Conor’s alley.

At the B&B, he meets Kate (the owner) and Abigail (the motherly demanding chef). Kate is a painter who’s currently suffering from artist’s block. She sits in front of her canvas day in and day out not painting because she lacks that spark. She does have a good sense of humor and can be stubborn and decisive. Sometimes I liked her and sometimes I rolled my eyes at her. She’s initially a little prickly with Conor, assuming that Conor has assumed she’s incompetent at farm work. Kate says she’s good with the tractor but we never see her doing any farm work, so I have my doubts.

Kate is directly tied to my one complaint for this book. I don’t mind a little romance with my espionage thriller, but I do mind characters being idiots and Kate was often an idiot and it usually was because of the romance. She is idiotically jealous over something Conor mumbles in his sleep. In another incident, she feels that Conor needs to ask her forgiveness and I felt she was being high handed, needy, and immature. Finally, there’s this end stage of the spy operation and Kate insists on going along with no spy training. This was such a bad idea but she bullies her way into it, endangering everyone. I really dislike it when stories use this particular ploy to make room for drama later on. So, yeah, I wanted to like Kate but I felt that she was mostly useless and at times detrimental to the other characters.

I loved that Conor played his violin for Kate. They chat about art in general and her artist’s block. Conor makes a comment along the line that Kate is making it all about herself instead of the art – and that sums up Kate perfectly. She’s not a bad person but she is self-centered.

Along this same line, I have to say that the ladies in this book are all comforters or love interests. Kate and Abigail and Yvonne (I think I have her name right) are well written but I wanted more from the women in general. It’s the modern age and lady spies have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. It would nice to see that reflected here.

Setting that aside, it was great to have Frank Murdoch and Sedgewick back in the game. Conor thought he had been clever, had left his old life behind, but he’s also new to all this spy business. So he’s not too surprised when Murdoch reaches out and has an assignment for him. There’s some unfinished business with Vasily Draganov, the big baddie from Book 1. Conor is still mourning his brother Thomas and his mother Brigid and the loss of the family farm. I could easily see how torn Conor was – go after this man or put it all behind him and try to heal.

At the end of Book 1, I wasn’t sure how much to trust Sedgewick and Murdoch but now there is a true bond among the three men. They each go through this new crisis and come out knowing each other better. Sedgewick is still a bit paranoid and rougher around the edges and Murdoch is still all proper English (doing his best to hide his heritage).

There’s plenty of double crossing and double agents stuff going on. It’s clear by the end of Book 1 that one of the good guys was feeding intel to one of the bad guys. Now in this book, that gets dealt with and wrapped up. Also, there’s a lingering string back to Thomas and to Conor’s farm caretaker (no longer employed since he sold the place) Phillip. I was delightfully surprised with the big reveal on that and also on how it got handled.

All told, 4/5 stars. If the next book comes to audiobook land, I will give it a listen because I think Kate can grow and become useful.

The Narration: Wayne Farrell was great! He has a light Irish accent for Conor that is just perfect. He also does a good job with the female voices. I loved his voice for Sedgewick, especially when Sedgewick was being rude or was in the grip of malaria or alcohol. He also had a good kid voice for the young lad. There were no technical issues with this recording. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Kathryn Guare. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Lover's Portrait by Jennifer Alderson

The Lover's Portrait: An Art Mystery - Jennifer S. Alderson

Note: Even though this is Book 2 in the series, it works fine as a stand alone novel.

I love a good art mystery, where the main character has to dig into the history of an art piece and try to figure out motivations of potential owners. Zelda Richardson has the passion for the job. She was bored sick of her office computer job in Big City, USA and ran off to the Netherlands to study art, working on her master’s degree. I really wanted to like Zelda and eventually I came to care about her in the way I would care about a young niece. She has the appreciation for Dutch art and the dedication to research but she’s not the sharpest pencil in the pack. The clues to the mystery were well laid out and Zelda sometimes took forever to put them together.

Because of that, this cozy murder mystery read more like a kid’s mystery novel. So maybe it’s not so much Zelda but rather how the mystery itself unfolded. I really felt that Zelda acted younger than a woman in her late 20s or early 30s and her slowness in piecing together the clues really added to this. Once I cheated and adjusted Zelda’s age to 15, I liked her more and I enjoyed the tale more.

Most of the story is set in Amsterdam and there were a few scenes sprinkled throughout the story that do well in reminding us of the setting. However, for most of the book, the tale could be set almost anywhere. A few Dutch touches here and there would have added to the atmosphere.

There are two women who claim rightful ownership of a newly recovered portrait called Irises. Rita Brower hails from Missouri (I think) and is friendly. She lived in Amsterdam as a kid and has many fond memories of the place. Karen O’Neil comes in hitting heavy with a pushy attorney, threatening to go to the press with her sob story. I liked that it wasn’t immediately clear which woman had the best case of ownership though Zelda had a clear liking for Rita while her co-worker Huub Konjin clearly favored Karen with all her legal documentation. Her boss Bernice remained professional throughout the entire mess, requiring her employees to look into both cases diligently.

The research pulls in Nazi occupation of the Netherlands during WWII and their persecution of homosexuals. I felt Zelda had a very simple take on this: if character X was a homosexual, there’s no way character X could have children. That’s just silly. Plenty of homosexuals and bisexuals have had kids. This argument of Zelda’s was a very weak one but a lot of emphasis was placed on it, making it a weak point in the plot.

Later on, Zelda talks her friend Friedrich into helping her spy on one of the claimants. However, she’s then dumb enough to play this illegal recording for her boss and Huub. Obviously, that doesn’t go well and I was sure Zelda would face charges. Zelda was completely surprised at how things went and I felt this added to the overall feeling that Zelda was more a 15 year old than a 25 year old.

As the story winds up for the big finale, which was easy to predict well before we got there, I was rooting for Zelda. She may be a bit dense but I didn’t want her dead and I did want her to find the big stash of lost art. Since things had been so cozy and rather PG, I wasn’t worried for Zelda’s safety even when she was held at gun point. I did wonder about that one scene where the Bad Guy has to hold her at gun point and pick a lock at the same time….. hmmm…. it usually takes 2 hands to pick a lock. Zelda didn’t take advantage of that moment but she comes up swinging later once she’s worked out that she’s dead if she doesn’t do something.

Over all, it was a fun cozy listen with good pacing. 3.5/5 stars.

The Narration: Carol Purdom has a very pleasant voice to listen to. She makes a decent Zelda and a really great Rita (Missouri accent). She does well as the slightly outraged Karen too. I was expecting the Dutch characters to have Dutch accents, but they didn’t. They usually sounded a bit formal or stilted but not with Dutch accents. There’s a few lines of German here and there and Perdom’s German pronunciation needs some polishing. She was really good with the emotions, especially Zelda’s. 3.5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jennifer S. Alderson. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Hidden Village by Imogen Matthews

The Hidden Village - Imogen Matthews

This was an educational and charming tale about Nazi occupied Holland during WWII. ‘Charming’ probably sounds a little odd for the subject but it was mostly a light-hearted tale about hiding in the woods and pulling the wool over the eyes of the Nazis. Jan, a lad of 11 years old, plays a major role in the story and for much of it, this was just one big adventure. It was exciting running messages and supplies to the Jews hiding in the woods (Berkenhout). He slips through Nazi hands again and again. Also, he’s found a few pilots that had to bail out. Sometimes his family helps out pilots or Jews by hiding them in their attic. So I can see how it’s all very exciting for the lad.

It took me a while to like Sofie. She is separated from her family and lives in Berkenhout on her own as a teenager. There, she eventually learns to help out. I’m not sure if she had a maid come in and clean once a week before the war, but now she learns to cook and clean and eventually enjoys all the tasks she takes on.

I’m going to show my ignorance here but this one little thing keeps niggling at me. The characters in this story (Jew or not Jew) all enjoy pork. Ham or bacon is nearly a daily ingredient in the cooking. There’s no discussion of ‘Oh, well, things are desperate and we really need the protein so we’ll eat pork even though it’s not kosher’. So was it common for 1940s Dutch Jews to eat pork? I don’t know and my few on-line searches haven’t answered the question. A few lines in the story would have educated me and cleared up that minor mystery.

The ladies in general were comforters and romantic interests. When two or more got together, they almost always talked about boys or men. I was a bit disappointed in this aspect of the story. We all know that the ladies did plenty in WWII besides the cooking, cleaning, reproducing, and flirting.

The last hour of the book gets very serious and it was a definite change of tone from the rest of the book. Unfortunately, several people die or are injured. There’s also the question of whether or not a certain side character betrayed the people of Berkenhout. Unfortunately, that mystery is never clearly answered.

I enjoyed the two pilots. One was a Brit, Nigel. Then later in the book there’s Donald, an American from Ohio. Both were welcomed into Jan’s house, partially because Jan and his mom (who is British) speak English. They both made a good counterpoint to Jan’s dad, who was always in a bad mood and rather gruff with Jan. After Jan’s older brother Oscar went off on a small mission for the local resistance, Jan didn’t have a steady male mentor. Both Nigel and Donald treated Jan well and appreciated his help.

Liesbeth, Sofie’s best friend from school, is a small comforting presence for much of the story. At the end she plays an important role and I liked her all the better for it. Though once again, I had some questions about how Liesbeth’s generosity changed her life and how she pulled it off.

So, as you can see, it was educational for me (who knew nothing about Nazi-occupied Holland before reading this story) yet it left me with several small questions. 4/5 stars.

The Narration:  Liam Gerrard was great for this story. He was the perfect, excitable Jan. He also had believable female voices. I know it would be a lot to ask for, but I would have enjoyed a Dutch accent for the Dutch characters… but that would have been the majority of the book so I understand why it wasn’t done. Gerrard used a light British voice for the majority of characters, which was perfect for the two British characters but it did make it feel like the story was set somewhere in the UK rather than in Holland. Gerrard had a good German accent for the Nazis and the one German defector. I also liked his American accent for Donald (who is from Ohio). His pacing was good too. There were no technical issues with the recording. 4.5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Essential Audiobooks. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Straight Outta Fangton by C. T. Phipps

Straight Outta Fangton - Cary Hite, C. T. Phipps

This was a fun tale and new take on Detroit vampires. Definitely no cliched Detroit vamps in this story! This is definitely a comedy with plenty of sarcasm and snark. There’s also plenty of pop culture references, which usually added to the fun but sometimes I found a little too much. Just my personal taste there.

Peter Stone is a decent fellow who gets caught up in bigger, badder things. A vampire hunter who’s been turned into a vampire (Melissa) turns up in his life and the two reluctantly join forces to save the vampire nation of New Detroit from a self- hating vamp. Yep, all sorts of vamps in this story. Not everyone wants to be undead, even if the undead now have voting rights, can get night jobs, and have to pay taxes.

One aspect I really liked about this story was part of the set up. The vamps have been carefully working behind the scenes to make vampires palatable to humans through media. There’s the books, the movies, the plush toys, and the bobble heads. After a hundred or so years, the idea of friendly vampires isn’t all that odd to humans.

David (Peter’s thrall), Melissa, and Peter all have lively banter between them. I really liked that some of the joking was centered around bigotry. There’s so many anti-vampers out there (and Melissa used to be one). It reminded me a little of how True Blood used the anti-vamper hate talk to mirror real world hate talk. It was well done, often eliciting a laugh even as the story takes a jab at bigotry in general.

Part of the tale involves solving a murder and for that, Peter needs to involve his master, Thoth. While Peter is in charge around David and Melissa, he has to rein it in and be a little subservient to Thoth. It was nice to see that Peter has this flexibility and also situational awareness. This bodes well for how the character will grow with the series.

Then in steps Renaud, a former French Templar. He’s the Big Baddie of the tale and it’s going to take everything our heroes have to survive. I did find the second half of the tale more fun than the first half. There’s more action. All told, the story could have used a little more world building and little less pop culture. All told, 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Cary Hite gave a really good performance to this story. He had a great voice for Peter stone and his female voices were believable. I enjoyed his voice for Thoth and for Renaud as well. All character voices were distinct. There were no technical issues with the recording. 5/5 stars.

Theft of Swords by Michael Sullivan

Theft of Swords - Michael J. Sullivan, Tim Gerard Reynolds

This epic fantasy includes a little breaking and entering, plenty of snarky insults, political intrigue, magical beasts, and a chaotic neutral maimed mage. For me, the tale started off fun but not particularly special. It wasn’t until about a quarter of the way through the book that the tale grabbed me. Royce and Hadrian are a lot of fun. They’ve known each other for years and each is well into their adult years. This was a nice break from all those epic fantasy adventures that feature teen/young adults bumbling through their first adventures.

Royce was my favorite because we have the same dark sense of humor and have to sometimes be talked into doing the right thing. Hadrian is an enthusiastic believer in honor and all things good. It’s a very good thing these two have each other to balance things out. Each has a history veiled in questions and half truths. I look forward to Book 2 revealing more on this note.

The one weakness to this tale is the ladies. It’s not all bad, but for the most part they are comforters and romantic interests and need to be rescued. Arista shows promise with her wit and ability to grasp politics. Also young Thrace has a shining moment at the end of the novel. The ladies aren’t the worst I’ve seen in epic fantasy but I did want just a bit more from them.

There’s a big fat mystery with the elves. Ancient conflict and truces are eluded to and I expect that will become a big deal later in this series. There are a few elvish slaves in some areas of the human realms, but no elves roam free… or if they do, they can pass for human. The maimed mage Esra provides most of what we know about the elves. He’s ancient and was imprisoned for perhaps 900 years (if I recall correctly). Esra is a big enigma. I don’t know what he wants and he might not know either. He has to keep his head down as he’s still a wanted criminal.

Then there’s Myron. I adored this character because of his wide eyed wonder of the bigger world. He grew up in a monastery and had never been off the grounds. He had seen a few horse but never rode one and he’s never seen a woman. As he gets swept up into the adventure, he provides several chuckles. I too wish there were blue horses.

By the end, I had fallen in love with the main characters. I really look forward to adventuring further with Royce and Hadrian. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Tim Gerard Reynolds gave a great performance for this book. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. He sounded like he had a lot of fun narrating this story too. I did notice a few short repeats but there were no other technical issues with the recording. I loved his voice for Myron (always full of wonder), his skeptical voice for Royce, and his honorable voice for Hadrian. 4.75/5 stars.

Rituals of the Dead by Jennifer S. Alderson

Rituals of the Dead - Jennifer S. Alderson

Note: Even though this is Book 3, it works fine as a stand alone novel.

Zelda Richardson continues to stumble around the antiquities gathered in Holland, making enemies and uncovering old mysteries. I liked this story quite a bit more than Book 2 mostly because I like Zelda more. She’s grown up a bit and now comes off as perhaps 20 years old instead of 15. She’s still a bit unsure of herself and not the swiftest to catch on, but some of that can be excused by the extraordinary circumstances she finds herself in.

Papua, New Guinea is the featured culture in this novel. Once upon a time, Dutch colonists cluttered up the Papua countryside bringing Christianity, modern medicine, and boxer shorts while also taking away cultural artifacts. The story portrays both sides of how modern peoples with their religions and sciences both helped and harmed the native peoples. I really like that the author didn’t shy away from showing this. It would have been easy to throw a rosy blanket over it but it’s way more interesting this way.

Zelda is still hanging out with her friend Friedrich but he’s got a much smaller role in this novel. Zelda still has him strictly in the Friend Zone even as she dates a few other guys. Her boss (Meric – spelling?) still questions if she’s the right one for the internship or not. Basically, Zelda’s life is this constant teetering see-saw. Albert Schenk still isn’t her fan.

The Amsterdam museum she works for is trying to gather enough Asmat New Guinea art pieces for a good show and Zelda has been tasked with gathering as much basic info as she can. In digging up info, she learns of an American artifact obtainer, Nicholas, who went missing in the 1960s. The story has a series of flashbacks showing what Nicholas was doing up to his disappearance and those are quite well told. Even as I enjoyed them, I wish there had been more Papua characters in the tale.

In the 1960s, the priests sent to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity were instructed to destroy old, ritualistic artifacts and art (which had been obtained by trading medicine and living utensils for them). This put some people in a difficult place – not everyone agreed that destroying these cultural items was the right thing to do. It’s a great little slice of questionable history to explore through this murder mystery.

The murder mystery part is a little long in getting spun up but I felt it was a delicious burn. We have one murder at the museum that doesn’t point to anything Zelda is tripping around in. Then later we get a second one that definitely points to whatever Zelda has gotten herself in. Plus there’s that decades old mystery of the missing American to solve. In the end, things mostly get figured out by Zelda though one small piece to the puzzle comes out in a random confession… and I felt that was a plot device and not really something the character would do.

All told, it’s an interesting mystery and I’m now warmed up to Zelda. 4/5 stars.

The Narration: For some reason, this series switches narrators which I find a bit distracting when I’m listening to a series back to back. Chelsea Stephens does a good job with Zelda’s voice. All her character voices are distinct though her male voices need masculinity. She did a good job portraying Zelda’s emotions and her pacing was good too. I know it’s a bit to ask, but since this is set in Holland, it would be nice to have a Dutch accent for the Dutch characters. That would really make it feel like the story is set in Amsterdam and not just any Midwestern USA city. 4/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Jennifer S. Alderson. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

Borderline by Joseph Badal

Borderline - Joseph Badal

This book was a delight to listen to! The story was easy to get into, the characters engaging, and the setting well used. Detectives Barbara and Susan are good friends as well as being good cops. In a mostly male profession, the ladies are more than driven to prove they are quite capable of solving this case that has handfuls of suspects. I felt it was very realistic for the ladies to feel pressure to out perform their male colleagues just to be seen as satisfactory workers.

I loved the setting but I’m a little bias being a New Mexico resident for most of my life. Some places noted in this book I know exist and others I would have to look up. It was great that the author included our Spanish and Mexican heritage that makes this state so very interesting.

The mystery itself was a wonderful chase of details and hunches. Victoria Comstock, the recently murdered, engendered love and hate in strong, broad strokes for many people. The more I learned about her, the more I was glad that she was dead! Badal does an excellent job of making the deceased the true villain of the tale while keeping us readers guessing as to who actually did the deed.

The story becomes even more engrossing when another body turns up. The two deaths are almost certainly connected but our hero detectives aren’t sure if they are after one or two killers. Susan’s angry husband complicates matters. Meanwhile, Barbara may have finally found someone to help her let go of her deceased husband – and that also adds some complications to the murder mystery.

At the end, there’s some foreshadowing that gave a hint as to who murdered one of the victims but who killed the other victim was a surprise to me. This mystery hit all the good points for me as it kept me engaged, had me rooting for our detectives, hating the villain, feeling sympathetic for some of the characters, and wanting more. Please let there be more Susan & Barbara murder mysteries! 5/5 stars.

The Narration: Pamela Almand was a great fit for this book. She had a slight accent for Barbara (as described in the story) and a clear, bright voice for Susan. Her Spanish was good and I feel that she captured the mild northern New Mexico accent quite well. All of her characters had distinct voices and her male voices were believable. There’s some real feelings in this story, especially for Barbara, and Almand was great at bringing these out in the narration. 5/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Pamela Almand. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

The Enigma Factor by Breakfield & Burkey

The Enigma Factor (The Enigma Factor Series) (Volume 1) - Charles V Breakfield, Roxanne E Burkey

This is a really slow book. Since it’s in the Thriller genre, I was expecting there to be more action and a much swifter pace. With that said, the over all premise is an interesting one. White Hat hackers unite! It takes over half the book to get to that point, but once it does, there is a bit of action and a set up for more action in the sequel.

Jacob Michaels is always so very, very polite. It takes a lot of dialogue to be that polite and considerate all the time. He’s faced with some tough truths that rise abruptly and smack him in the face and yet, he is still the polite, caring person. In his 30s, he’s never pursued a deep romantic relationship wanting to wait until he can afford a wife… but he says it in a more considerate way. This quaint mind set made me think of 1800s and even early 1900s where it was fairly common for men in their 40s to marry women half their age. So obviously Jacob has some deep seeded issues to work on.

His mom and granny were White Hats as well but unfortunately they are dead. I think having them alive and meddling would have made this story much more interesting. As it is, the ladies are nearly all romantic interests with a few other skills that we rarely get to see in action. Petra is the main love interest and is a skilled White Hat, though we are mostly told that and not shown. I think she’s in her 40s or older but that’s unclear. Julie is a flirtatious barista with hidden skills. Patty also has hidden skills but seems to be most proficient in inventive bedroom play. Haddy is married. Master Po, while currently celibate, used to enjoy oral sex and was proficient at it. As you can see, with nearly every female character, there is a bedroom scene. While the men get to be professional managers, hackers, bad guys, cops, spies, business men, etc.

At one point, Petra is thinking to herself how attracted she is to Jacob because of his aura of danger. So funny! Jacob hasn’t done anything dangerous at all at this point. He keeps in shape but he doesn’t have any hand to hand combat training nor any gun or knife proficiency. So, no danger here. Also, that was during the bike tour of the Long Island wineries. Petra has a motorcycle but she lacked the experience to carry a heavier passenger on the back seat, so she let Jacob drive. Argh! If Petra had a slew of other skills that we see used in this plot, that scene wouldn’t bother me so. With Petra relegated to Main Love Interest, it’s a let down. She’s been riding since her teen years but has never carried heavier people on the back seat…. It would have been so easy to give her this one skill and put it on display.

OK, so about halfway through this book we finally get a dead body. Yes! Let the action commence! The pace does pick up a little but it’s still pretty darn slow for a Thriller. I did really like how complicated things got for Buzz, Jacob’s best friend. He’s been taking it too easy, using Jacob to complete his own work tasks (Buzz’s coding skills aren’t all that). Now he’s in some hot water and he has to make some tough choices. I expect Book 2 will show us more of Buzz.

There are a ton of info dumps all the way through this book. Some are fun, cutting edge science or just plain science fiction and I enjoyed those. Like there’s some image encryption tech coupled with tattoos. Yes! That’s very interesting stuff and I wish we had more of it. There’s info dumps on China’s economics and how that relates to cyber security and also on the Enigma machine of WW2. Those were interesting if a bit long winded. Other info dumps were pretty pedestrian and only increased the word count to this novel. Honestly, I don’t really need to know how many pairs of socks Jacob packed to go to DefCon in Las Vegas.

For the most part, the characters stay the same throughout the story. I was expecting some character growth since there wasn’t much action going on. Perhaps the characters needed some action to force them to grow. Buzz showed the greatest growth and that was just a smidge. Some evil Russians (Sergei and Grigory) come in late in the book and give us some true, if one dimensional, villains to watch out for. I did feel for the white tiger Nikky.

All told, the book has promise but it’s long winded. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: Steven Jay Cohen does a pretty good job. He has distinct voices for all the characters and most of his female voices sound like ladies. I felt he struggled with some of the accents a little, some being a bit over accentuated. For the first few hours, Cohen kept putting a slight emphasis on an odd word in every other sentence. It wasn’t William Shatner level, but it was noticeable. After a while, this did smooth out and wasn’t noticeable very often. There’s no technical issues with this recording. 4/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by MK Marketing. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.

A Temple of Forgotten Spirits by William F. Wu

Temple of Forgotten Spirits - William F. Wu

This book contains the following interconnected short stories: Wild GarlicOn a Phantom TideThe Shade of Lo Man GongPagan NightDesert Night RideCaravan of DeathTong Yun GuyShaunessy FongTinsel ChinkIn the Temple of Forgotten Spirits. They capture the adventures of Jack Hong as he hitchhikes across the USA chasing after the elusive keilin (Chinese unicorn). The collection as a whole works pretty well. I think a few edits would have tightened the story up a bit so that it read smoothly as a novel. Each tale reads like a really long chapter for the most part but sometimes one story will reference actions or people we just left in the previous story. We haven’t had time to forget, so it comes off a little repetitive here and there.

And that is my only criticism of the book.

Jack Hong is an interesting character on an engaging journey. He gets a little jail time for losing a fight and that’s when Lo Man Gong appears, practically pushing him out a window into a jail break. From there, Jack follows the misty form of the keilin, not knowing what the spirit wants with him. But he has plenty of opportunities to help others along the way.

Shaunessy Fong brought in the mystery solving aspect to the novel, as well as ghosts. Jack had his first nasty shock being tossed into jail, then another shock with the escape artist spirit Gong, yet one more with keilin, and finally, now, here are some ghosts. I was waiting for Jack to faint! But he rallied and decided that perhaps he was witnessing this horrible moment of the past via the ghosts reenactment because he was meant to help them.

Desert Night Ride is set in the desert Southwest, starting in Albuquerque and ending near Salt Lake City. Throughout this entire novel, Jack is sometimes searching for his ancestral past, sometimes ignoring it, and sometimes making peace with it. This tale did a great job of showcasing this particular aspect to the greater story. Plus, it’s the desert which is a setting I always enjoy in stories.

Wild Garlic struck a different captured my mind for other reasons. Set in the Ozarks, the population is primarily White with this one Chinese wife. On his way through, Jack is first invited to have dinner with them and then later to help them calm an angry spirit. It’s only late in the story that there’s something magical about some of the characters in this tale. While the Ozarks have kept them a bit isolated from their native culture, it’s also that isolation that’s allowed them to fly under the radar.

Caravan of Death has a little time travel element to it. Here, Jack learns a bit about the Chinese work gangs for one of the big railroad companies in the 1800s. Jack also helps a woman see how her ancestry isn’t lost in her own offspring as that ancestry helped to make this country travelable.

In the Temple of Forgotten Spirits wraps up the novel quite nicely. It brings everything home while also giving Jack a new purpose, a quest to set out upon. The author took the time to add plenty of notes about his experiences that relate to a specific tale or what his historical research turned up. I really enjoyed these as well as I enjoy learning little bits from my entertainment. All told, 4/5 stars.

The Narration: Anthony Lee did OK with this narration. He starts off a little rough, sometimes putting emphasis on one word over others in a sentence, making it sound awkward. But he smooths out about 1/3 of the way into the book. His attempt at hick accents sounded off but his pronunciation of various Asian words sounded great to my untutored ears. He had distinct voices for all the characters and his female voices were believable. 4/5 stars.

I received this audiobook as part of my participation in a blog tour with Audiobookworm Promotions. The tour is being sponsored by Anthony Lee. The gifting of this audiobook did not affect my opinion of it.